On September 14th, Penn IUR and the School of Design co-sponsored a book talk to launch the publication of “Bulldozer: Demolition and Clearance of the Postwar Landscape” by Penn IUR Faculty Fellow Francesca Russello Ammon, Assistant Professor of City and Regional Planning, School Design. Penn IUR Co-Director Eugenie Birch introduced Professor Ammon and welcomed the diverse audience of faculty, staff, and students. Using historical photographs and images of popular books and films from the 1950s through 1970s, Professor Ammon walked the audience through the rise and fall of the bulldozer as subject and symbol of the postwar efforts of destruction and re-construction. Professor Ammon argued for reframing the post-World War II period as not merely a time of growth and construction, but also an era of largescale destruction at the hands of the bulldozer. She claimed that the landscape-altering “culture of clearance” was seen as a means toward progress and a fresh start. The practices of land clearance that historically followed the destruction of war were now mirrored in the postwar urban renewal practices aimed at creating a blank slate for rebirth.
Emphasizing World War II’s role in the success and proliferation of the bulldozer, Professor Ammon outlined how wartime advances in equipment technology, training of laborers, clearance practices, and cultural veneration of the bulldozer served as a catalyst for the bulldozer business to boom. She noted the role that popular culture – including children’s books, films, and advertisements – played in attaching a patriotism to the bulldozer that glorified the widespread practices of demolition and clearance. Professor Ammon highlighted the growing issues this wide-scale destruction soon caused, including environmental degradation, displacement of minority groups, and neighborhood destruction. By the 1970s, she explained, mounting criticism to the bulldozer reflected a shift towards a “culture of conservation” as the bulldozer’s “culture of clearance” came to an end. The event wrapped up with a number of questions from the audience on the similarities to present-day destruction practices, the broader planning practices happening in the post-war period, and the modern equivalent of the bulldozer. Copies of “Bulldozer: Demolition and Clearance of the Postwar Landscape” are available for sale online here.